I have a friend–at least I hope he thinks of me as a friend—who is contemplating life after the Navy. He has decided to cut the apron strings of Active Duty, enter the Reserves and attend school full time. He’s nervous, of course but excited all the same. He found his passion and has decided to run with it.
I’d like to give him advice because I’ve already been down this road (the Decision, the Transition) but I would also like to share in his journey as my own may parallel soon. I’ve experienced the fear of considering life after the military. Joining the Guard and later the Reserves allowed me to Have my Cake and Eat it Too: I got to put my uniform on from time to time and even continued to deploy while maintaining (at least until the Corporate altruism ran out) a civilian career . There were other benefits too. In the Guard, my state paid for 100% tuition so I earned my Bachelors without having to touch my GI Bill. But as the conflicts overseas dragged on and I made the (worst) decision to leave a branch of service that had always taken care of me and a Squadron that was like family to me in order to join the Army Reserves and land into the worst situation possible with a corrupt Command…but let me stop this train right there. Then, the civilian career that I had poured my heart and soul into for a decade dumped me like a cheating ex as the company decided that the industry was too volatile to continue to lose a key player for extended periods of time. Bottom line: my next deployment was just one too many.
So I returned to Active Duty except now wearing a different uniform. My world was up-ended on both sides, civilian and military. I will never blame an entire service for the sins of a few but to this day, I regretted my decision and informed my mother that when I die (funny how I assumed my parents would outlive me. My father has already proven me wrong.), I wanted to be buried in my Air Force blues.
Now I am working the same “mission” as a civilian. So far, things have improved since I traded heels for boots. Still, the anxiety rises as I face my next deployment, my first as a civilian. I remind myself that out of uniform, there is a limit to the amount of abuse I must take. As a civilian, if things get really bad, I can give them the middle finger and “peace, I’m out!” And the idea of walking away now scares me less than the idea of staying in.
I was sitting at my desk, grumbling and cursing at the computer. My coworker asks what’s going on? I explained that the Human Resources Command website was as effed up as the rest of the Army.
“Are you still in?”
“Yeah. Well, technically.” Although I don’t have to put on a uniform at all these days. I just completed the annual “Virtual Muster” online. HRC sent me a letter iforming me that I was assigned to a local unit but the number given for the POC was not in service and the email got kicked back. Figures.
So I’m thinking about dying my hair Easter Egg pink.
But I digress…
College. Career. Next move…
Last we ‘spoke’, I was considering packing it all up, moving to California and returning to school full time for my Masters. Oh, I’m still planning on starting back to school towards that goal this Fall but the Responsible Adult in me has realized that a move like that is not fiscally responsible. The cost of living in SoCal is ridiculous. My house in the ‘hood is cheap livin’ and I’m still 10 minutes away from some of the nicest beaches in the U.S. It will be difficult but I could attend school full time and keep my present full time job. At least for the first year until clinical fieldwork starts. When I discussed this with my friend in California, she surprised me. I expected her to try and convince me that moving was still a great idea but inst3ead, she groused that she was barely making ends meet out there. And for all the benefits that SoCal offers, she was spread too thin between juggling a full time job and full time courses that she had neither the time nor money to enjoy any of them. She then asked if she could move to Florida to live with me instead of the other way around.
Now what to do with the rest of my life? I’m a Planner with the neurotic assumption that Murphy’s Law is more than just my namesake and more an inescapable reality.
My best friend and I were catching up last night and when I reminded him that I’m 37 and starting to worry if I’ll ever have children, he was surprised. In his mind, I was always younger. Always had plenty of time. Sure, with a phone call and a bottle of wine, I could probably be pregnant by the end of the week but I want the whole package. I want the American Lie. I want a stable career, a loving, faithful (and mildly kinky) husband, a couple of kids… and I always assumed I would have all of that by this age. Why that hasn’t panned out, I don’t know but it’s useless to wonder. Some things are out of my control.
But if I return to school full time this Fall, I could, under the best circumstances without interruption, obtain my Masters in Social Work by the time I’m …mumblemurrmurletsnottalkabout that. Starting pay would be shit and promotion would take several years of post-grad experience with an additional certification, testing, licensing, etc. But Ive lived off less and the chances of me getting hired at the VA straight out of an externship are decent. Yes, I’m holding out for the VA. The only reason I have any interest in Social Work is two fold: The VA hospital has provided me with life-saving care and no one understands a combat Veteran like another combat Veteran. I have done my best to serve and protect those under my command and I want to continue that service and care. I’ll never earn a fat paycheck doing it but it’s not about that. I am convinced it’s the next step. This program will exhaust the remainder of my GI Bill and starting another new career this late in life…well, let’s just say I have to make this one count.
Now back to my Navy friend. I congratulate him for discovering his passion and having the courage to take the next step. He’s still quite young—a kid in my eyes. All the time in the world to craft his future into exactly what he wants. I really don’t have any advice because there is no right or wrong decision here. It’s a rollercoaster: some people panic, others enjoy the ride. So throw your hands up and holler til youre hoarse, son!